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Scout stuck by Domonic Brown, and it paid off for Phils

It was the hair, Domonic Brown figured. The hair had to be the problem. "Cornrows," said the Phillies' rookie outfielder. "I had the whole football look."

Domonic Brown is batting .214 since being called up to the majors. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Domonic Brown is batting .214 since being called up to the majors. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)Read more

It was the hair, Domonic Brown figured. The hair had to be the problem.

"Cornrows," said the Phillies' rookie outfielder. "I had the whole football look."

Chip Lawrence, a Phillies scout, was smitten. "I knew I wanted him," he said.

The first time Lawrence saw Brown, the gangly teenager was a lefthanded pitcher. Brown threw 93 to 95 m.p.h. off the mound as a high school junior, and Lawrence was overwhelmed by Brown's potential and athleticism.

"You could dream for days with a guy like that," Lawrence said.

He was too good an athlete to walk away from, which is exactly what other scouts had done.

There was the scholarship offer to play football at the University of Miami.

"We told [scouts] from Day 1 that I wanted to play baseball," Brown said. "But they actually thought because of the commitment and how I was ranked for football that I was so serious about it. I really wasn't. It was there, if need be."

There was the messy transfer in the summer between his junior and senior years of high school from Pasco High in Tampa (where he lived with his mother) to Redan High in an Atlanta suburb (where he lived with his father). Some scouts stopped following him after the move.

Lawrence stayed on Brown. They talked on the phone a lot. Conversations with Brown's father became frequent, too. Lawrence said he didn't need to see Brown often. He had a pretty good idea of his talents.

One day, he made a trip to Georgia. There, he found Brown had cut off all his hair.

"He said he didn't take me seriously until then," Brown said.

The rookie looked around the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium and laughed.

Thirty-five days after Brown made his major-league debut July 28 to standing ovations and great expectations from a sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park, Lawrence began his new job with the San Diego Padres.

He quietly left the Phillies, where he had spent eight years as an area amateur scout, for a promotion with the Padres. Now, Lawrence is a crosschecker scout assigned to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico. He has more say in the team's final decisions than he did in Philadelphia.

Both prospect and scout are moving up the baseball ladder.

It's not that the Phillies didn't want to keep Lawrence, 36. Not only had he persuaded Brown to sign with the Phillies, he also scouted and signed two promising prospects currently at single-A Lakewood: Jiwan James, a 21-year-old outfielder, and Julio Rodriguez, a 20-year-old righthander. ("He's a guy worth watching pretty soon here," Lawrence said of Rodriguez.)

Marti Wolever, the Phillies' director of scouting, said Lawrence turned down a similar promotion from the Texas Rangers two years ago. He also interviewed with the Chicago Cubs but decided to stay. This time, he left with Wolever's blessing.

"It just got to the point where we didn't have anything for him here," Wolever said. "I'm a firm believer in if you don't have something to offer and somebody has an opportunity like that, then they should pursue it. I obviously hated to lose him because he's an outstanding scout and an even better person."

It's one of those baseball transactions that will be overlooked. But as Brown, who is currently relegated to prospect-in-waiting status as a bench player during the Phillies' pennant race, assumes a larger role in the team's future, remember Lawrence and the relationship he formed with Brown.

"It helped me a lot," Brown said. "Chip and I became close and he became close with my family. Man, it's just great. Now that I'm here, I wouldn't change anything."

On July 28, Lawrence was in Easley, S.C., when he heard the news of Brown's call-up to the majors. He wasn't able to watch - he had to scout a tournament, of course.

"To be honest, I didn't think he'd get there as quickly as he has," Lawrence said. "But he's always been able to make adjustments.

A week after the 2006 draft, a caravan of Phillies employees met Lawrence in Stone Mountain, Ga. Wolever brought then-East Coast scouting supervisor John Castleberry and amateur scouting coordinator Mike Ledna to see Brown.

The Phillies had taken him in the 20th round. (Brown was actually listed as a lefthanded pitcher on the official draft results.) He had fallen because of concerns he would not sign.

"Our philosophy has always been to take guys like that later in the draft because things change," Wolever said. "We always take guys like that. But Chip really, really had a lot of interest in Domonic and kept pushing him. It just got to a point where we took a flier to see if there was anything we could do."

Brown had moved to Georgia before his senior year to be with his father, partially because he could have a tutor to help him prepare for college entrance exams. But his mother, Rosemary Brown, refused to grant temporary guardianship to her estranged husband and Brown's father, Robert Walker, in order for Brown to be eligible to play sports at his new high school. Eventually, a Georgia court ruled in favor of Walker.

Soon after, Brown orally committed to Miami to play football. He was rated by as one of the nation's top 250 players. But Lawrence was glad Brown was with his father.

"His dad did a good job of getting him in the right direction baseball-wise," Lawrence said.

Now Lawrence had to prove Brown's value to his bosses. During the day, the contingent of Phillies scouts took Brown and his father to a field. Wolever made a few changes to Brown's swing, and the 18-year-old was quick to adapt. Later that night, Brown took the suggestions into one of Redan's games and flourished.

"At that point," Wolever said, "we got all excited."

The scouting director gave Lawrence a salary figure to work with and told him to return with Brown and his father to their house.

"We put it in Chip's hands and said, 'Hey, we need to get this done. So, Chip, go get him,' " Wolever said. "That's exactly what he did. He went right in and got it done that night."

Brown signed for approximately $200,000, well over the recommended slot.

"It wasn't hard," Lawrence said. "It's never hard when you have a kid who wants to get his career started and has his goals in mind."

About a week before Lawrence officially started with San Diego, he sent Brown a text message. He wanted to tell him about the new job before anyone else could.

"Crazy," Brown said, shaking his head.

Lawrence was there from Day 1. When Brown reported to Clearwater, Fla., shortly after signing to begin his professional career with the Gulf Coast Phillies, Lawrence was waiting for him. Every spring training, Lawrence treated Brown and the other players he had signed to a few dinners.

Those are the players who have helped Lawrence ascend the ladder.

"When you sign guys who go out and do well," Lawrence said, "it definitely doesn't hurt."

Brown, who will likely play winter ball this off-season and has a legitimate shot at being the Phillies' starting rightfielder come 2011 at age 22, is appreciative.

"He was the only guy who stuck there," Brown said.

"He wanted to play baseball," Lawrence said. "Yeah, he was a good football player, but baseball was his first love. Once you got to know him, that wasn't hard to tell."

And as Lawrence begins scouting for another club, the Phillies will always be grateful he befriended a lanky lefty with cornrows.